Wednesday, December 5, 2007 a video game for cancer kids


Diagnosis of cancer at any stage of life can be extremely overwhelming and traumatic. This experience is even more dramatic in the case of adolescents and young adults (approximately 15 to 35 years old), due to the developmental life cycle stage that they belong to. This particular group is already dealing with a range of issues related to education, career, and relationship and all that shapes up ones personal identity. Hence the diagnosis of cancer, which means a beginning of a long process of painful treatment and years of uncertainty, makes the additional burden of having to deal with cancer, an extraordinary and challenging time for them.

Even medically, this specific group seems to be unique in the distribution of the types of cancer, prognosis and causal factors. Majority of the cancer appearing in this age group are spontaneous, unrelated to either carcinogen in the environment or family cancer syndromes. The more disturbing fact is that there has been a lack of progress in the survival improvement, relative to all other ages in the last quarter century globally. National Cancer Institute, USA has recently acknowledged that this vulnerable age group is one of the under-represented in cancer studies and seeks to redress it.

This write-up is about an interactive play which aims to harness the power of the video game technology to engage young people with cancer, and deliver a positive health outcome. The name of the game is Re-Mission and the organization which developed the game is HopeLab.

Hopelab is a not for profit organization, which uses research based techniques and comes up with innovative ways to improve the quality of life of young adults with chronic illnesses. Re-mission is their first product aimed at cancer affected.

The game takes the player on a journey through the body of a fictional cancer patient, who represent young cancer patients with different types of cancer. Players control nanobot named Roxxi who destroys cancer cells, battles bacterial infections and manages realistic life threatening side effects associated with cancer treatment.

The game was designed to be fun and at the same time, impart knowledge about cancer, treatment regimens and through this knowledge aims to improve one’s confidence in their ability to manager their illness. The feeling of power over their illness that the children gain, as they blast away cancer cells in the game is in essence what the game aims to achieve.

The game was developed by a team of individuals with expertise in a wide range of disciplines, including research, psychology, game development and nutrition. The development team has worked closely with health cancer professionals to ensure that the medical terminologies used in the game were accurate, and that the goals of each missions represented a medically valid problem. They had also adopted an interactive game development process, to incorporate the input of young people with cancer, thereby ensuring that the game meaningfully reflect their perspectives. While there is an emphasis that the end product needs to be a fun game, it should not trivialize the larger objective that it is aimed at.

The developers of this game are also committed to the study of their interventions through outcome studies to ensure that the game developed is effective on its target audience. The study focused on the effect of the game and its influence on adolescents and young adults on the following aspects

- Adherence to cancer medications
- Knowledge about cancer information embedded in the game
- Quality of life
- Individuals belief in his/her ability to take a certain course of action in a challenging situation(the disease of cancer in this instance)

They report that the result of the outcome studies has been quite encouraging and these study and finding are openly shared with. I have had some personal interaction with the game developers and find them to be quite open to incorporating changes, adding new aspects to the game and demonstrate self-critical attitude on deciding about its effectiveness.

The PC-version of the game is made available to young people with cancer, free of charge through their website ( This site also provides an interactive, online community where teens and young adults with cancer can share information and support one another.

In addition they intend applying the insights gained from the development and study of this game to come up with similar technology-based approaches that affects young people with chronic illness. They are working on the following illnesses currently

- Obesity (Ruckus the game is available already)
- Sickle cell disease
- Major depressive disorder
- Autism
I intend to contribute for their outcome studies in the following way. I plan to organize a demonstration show on the game to a group of young cancer patients. Based on the reaction and relevance that they feel this in our socio-cultural context, we can organize an outcome study through a set of questionnaires to understand their reaction to the game. This input can be provided to the game developers and if they feel it makes sense they could incorporate it into the game.

Video game development is an extremely cost intensive activity. This would be not possible without huge financial backing and support. But certain aspects of this development process, like the knowledge about cancer information availability through an interactive medium, and the usefulness of that knowledge in enabling people to better deal with their illness can be made use and tried on
alternate techniques (online audio-visual tools as approaches to impart cancer information). Individual PC access for people in most hospitals can be an issue, but making available a common PC loaded with the game should be feasible.

With changing lifestyle and food habits, obesity among the kids and adults is also a major health concern in India. Hence their forthcoming product targeted at obesity can have a viable market in India. Hence an engagement with the game developers on their development methodologies can also make business sense.

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